Panlibus Blog

Archive for March, 2007

Bigfoot user tells it like it is.

Ross Singer of Georgia Tech Library and avid participant in the code4lib community, is one of the first to have access as a developer to the Bigfoot Store component of the Talis Platform.

Having sent us a file of bibliographic records which we loaded in to a store for him (something he will be able to do for himself fairly soon), he has found the time to not only experiment with the APIs, and produce (and share) some Ruby code to use those APIs, but he has also produced a comprehensive blog post about his experience.

As the first to post about his experiences using a Bigfoot Store, it makes interesting reading.  Also as you would expect from the first to use the first release of a new service, it is not all perfection.  Taking input like this from users of Platform services is invaluable in helping us make them even more developer friendly.

Ross explains how much he has achieved in a couple of days ‘playing’ with the store and its APIs .  He asks a few questions about features and documentation that I have been able to clarify in my response to his post.  It is gratifying to note that I could answer most everything along the lines of, we are already working on this and it will be available soon.

From this:

Overall, I’m really impressed with the Talis API.  It is a LOT easier to use than, say, Z39.50 and by using OpenSearch seems more natural to integrate into existing web services than SRU.

Thanks, Talis, for getting me started with Bigfoot and giving me the opportunity to play around with it. 

.. you can tell that Ross found his experimentation worthwhile.  I am also sure that others will find his bigfoot-ruby Ruby library useful when they come to use the Platform.

If you want to have access to and experiment with the Platform, you can do so without even having to have your own store.  Check out the Bigfoot – An initial tour document in the Talis Developer Network.

If you would like your own store to put bibliographic or any other related data into, drop me a line.


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Dan Champion talks with Talis about Revish

In our latest Talking with Talis podcast, I talk with Dan Champion founder of Revish.

Revish is a book review community site which is to be launched on Friday 30th March 2007. We talk about Dan’s career and how the idea of Revish took shape and developed in to a reality. How Revish differs from other book sites such as Shelfari and LibraryThing is also discussed as well as the motivations of the type of person that would want to be a member of the Revish community.

Listen Now | Download MP3 [17 mins, 4 Mb]

During the conversation, we refer to the following resources:

This conversation was conducted by telephone on Tuesday 27 March 2007, edited in Audacity.

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Continuing Richard’s line of thought

Richard’s post to this blog came just as I was pondering a similar issue of my own; one that is beginning to annoy me more than just a little.

Why, oh why, oh why do we keep polarising these things? ‘Evil vendor’, ‘Good library’. Erm… OCLC? LibLime? Equinox? IndexData? Where do they fit in this insanely polarised view? What about all those library consortia that charge their members money, but ‘do good’ with their ill-gotten gains?

As Richard points out, we all have something to ‘sell’; even if it’s just as individuals seeking tenure, promotion, or a renewal of our contract, or as libraries competing with other parts of our organisation for budget, mindshare, or car parking spaces.

So the distinction between ‘commercial’ and non is more than a little misleading, even at the best of times.

As we grapple with big issues around reshaping an ‘industry’, finding a place for libraries and their resources in the world beyond their walls and websites, and delivering meaningful and engaging services to end users in ways that meet their needs rather than ours, the whole us and them thing becomes, frankly, a significant barrier to everyone’s progress.

We need to get an awful lot better at harnessing the capabilities, abilities and experiences of really clever people, regardless of where their paycheque comes from each month. Yes, Talis is a commercial concern, and yes as an employee, shareholder, and Management Team member, I’m obviously interested in ensuring that we succeed in remaining profitable.

I’m also interested – socially and selfishly – in the continuation of the sector; the success of the sector. To ensure that success – and by extension the success of Talis, its customers, (some of!) its competitors, and others – I want to be able to engage in free and frank discussion with others who also care. Some of them will be customers. Some of them won’t. Some of them will be partners. Some of them will be competitors. So what?

And the thing that got me so annoyed? The recent JISC conference. Open to members of further or higher education. Or employees of exhibiting companies. So I have to be one of those who are sold to, or I have to be a seller. I can’t just be an individual or an organisation with stories to tell, paths to travel, and visions to share. So I couldn’t go. And I would have liked to.

We really need to grow up. For vendors, every conversation with a librarian really shouldn’t be an opportunity to plug the latest and greatest product, every conversation with another vendor shouldn’t be the opening salvo in a takeover bid. And for librarians, every conversation with a vendor shouldn’t be you telling them what you want, and asking them how much it’ll cost. There are ideas to share, on both sides, and we do a terribly good job of disrupting that sharing.

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Sticking my head above the parapet

I’m starting this post with some trepidation, with a little voice in the back of my head telling me that the first comment to it will be entitled “Methinks he doth protest too much“.

There has always been a traditional, and probably healthy, tension in the Library Systems market between libraries that need Library Systems to support their operations, and the vendors who build, sell, and support them.  This tension is no doubt fuelled by the cultural differences between the profit based commercial business environment that vendor staff operate within, and the institutionally funded public/academic community supporting ethos driven world of the librarians.

I know this is a very broad-brush picture of the world we operate in, but I believe that most vendor employees will recognise the caricature of the librarian who has no concept of the commercial realities of life; and most librarians will recognise the caricature of the evil vendor squeezing every possible cent from library budgets for the benefit of their shareholders. 

As I say, I believe that in that traditional interaction between libraries and vendors this tension is probably healthy, but it is unfortunate when the opinions it fosters colour the interaction between the communities in non-sales situations.

In a comment to Dan Chudnov’s brain dump posting about the excellent Code4lib 2007 conference, Dan Scott raises the issue of how do you avoid sales pitches in sessions.  He then goes on to escalate that worry in to a concern about how would we avoid code4lib being hosted by vendors.  Dan’s [Scott] implicit assumption being that because a vendor employee (yours truly) was showing some unique really cool stuff that was the result of innovative work from his company’s development team, he was selling it to him.

As I say in my reply to his comment:

The first thing I would like to share with you is a problem that is not just limited to code4lib. That problem is that I want to show off some really cool stuff that you can do with APIs that have been designed with the developers that will use them in mind, and to augment data streams with bibliographic & other related data. The only Platform that is currently openly delivering that functionality in that way is the Talis Platform. Therefore as all the examples are based upon Talis Platform capabilities this can unfortunately be easily interpreted as a sales pitch.

How do we get over the suspicion that any words from a vendor’s mouth that mention their products or developments is a full on sales pitch? –  We probably never totally will – but hopefully over time it will become apparent that when the folks from Talis say that they are not there to sell you something, they mean it.  Also if and when we say we are, you will most certainly notice the difference.

Anyone stood up presenting is always selling you something, be it their ideas and opinions, or a a way of doing something that their experience tells them you should listen to, or avoid.  The difference Dan is obviously worried about is that if that is also monetary ‘sell’ it will some how pollute the message.

I don’t see commercialism as basically evil, without it I am fairly certain that that the library world would not have advanced in the last half century anywhere near as far as it has.  I’m equally passionate in asserting that almost uniquely the library world has advanced as far as it has because of the cooperation and standardization efforts of the librarian community.

We are moving away from the ‘traditional’.  Anybody watching the consolidations and product upheavals in the ILS/LMS market, supplemented by the recent technology and Open Source advancements, can’t fail to see that change is happening.   One of the outcomes of that change will be that a library service will be delivered by components from a mixture, and a choice, of sources, some Open Source, some commercial, some home-grown.  Conversations between all parties in this mix is vital to its success.  To quote the Cluetrain Manifesto [again]”Markets are conversations … Smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable to happen sooner ”  In other words the people with the interest and the ideas need to be talking directly to each other – something that code4lib facilitates very well – then things will start to happen organically.  If that then leads to a cooperation, or a beneficial commercial transaction that makes sense to both parties then so be it.

Something else is changing.  No doubt many that are reading this will conjure in to their minds, when I mention commercial transactions, the traditional sales process that leads eventually to the purchase of software, hardware, and services that will deliver a closed proprietary, locked-in solution with a price tag of several thousand Pounds/Dollars attached to it.

I the components world of web-scale distributed services delivered through the Internet cloud, you will be able to pick and choose which bits you use to build and deliver your service.  Some may be Open Source and/or free, some may be the results of your own local efforts, and some may make sense – because of the value they deliver – to purchase/subscribe to.  By taking advantage of the economies of scale and low-cost distributed hardware and infrastructures, the financial costs associated with those purchased/subscribed to services will almost certainly lay well outside the ball-park of traditional library world price tags.

Talis are at the forefront of driving forward the changes in our world that I hint at, and you are just starting to see their green shoots starting to emerge.  That is why we have said come play with the Talis Platform, at zero cost, to see what you can do with it and what value you may gain from it.  We will preserve the ownership of your data.  If you can see the value you could gain from it, lets have a conversation of how you could integrate it in to what you are doing.  If you don’t like what you hear, well move on.  – Oops I am in danger of dropping to sales mode here!

So getting back to the question that started this.  Dan is right, we must not let code4lib get taken over and hijacked by vendors and their traditional sales pitches.  It will stifle all that is good about it, but there again we must recognise that input from all sources be they commercial or not will most times be valuable.

(Photo taken by JBJon displayed in Flickr)


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Karen Coyle – a good listen

Keeping me awake on my commute home last night was an interesting podcast interview with Karen Coyle – to quote her short  blog biog ‘Librarian, techie, social commentator, once called “public intellectual” by someone who couldn’t think of a better title.

It is an interesting interview by Scott Mace, someone not immersed in the library world, of someone that is.  It free ranges from the standardization introduced by the catalogue card through to the challenges and opportunities surrounding the digitization of books.

Well worth half an hour of background listen time…..

Documentation for Bigfoot APIs published

Both User Guide and API Reference documentation for the Bigfoot Store component of the Talis Platform is now available in the Talis Developer Network.

Bigfoot is a zero-setup, multi-tenant content and metadata storage facility capable of storing and querying across very large datasets. It is one of the core components of the Talis Platform delivering the core scalable functionality that drives applications such as Cenote.

This eagerly awaited release of API reference documentation will enable developers and others to experience for themselves the power and simplicity of using Platform Bigfoot Stores, as previewed at recent conferences.

The documentation complements the Open Source release of the Talis Cenote code base, supplying the detail behind the API calls used in Cenote.

This initial release details the Search, Facet, and Augmentation APIs. For those new to Bigfoot, the documentation set also includes Bigfoot – An initial tour which steps you through live use of the APIs without the need to write a single line of code.

We encourage all to try these APIs either from with a browser or calling them from code. The current, publicly available Bigfoot Stores for you to access are:

  • UKBib – A comprehensive selection of UK-specific bibliographic data.
  • Holdings – freely contributed to the Platform through Talis Source.
  • wikipedia – Abstracts of wikipedia articles.

We also encourage you to comment, discuss, and generally share your experiences with Bigfoot and its APIs in the TDN, Talis Platform Forum.

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Karen Calhoun joins OCLC

Karen Calhoun. Image (c) Cornell University Library

Congratulations to Karen Calhoun on her new position at OCLC as Vice President, OCLC WorldCat and Metadata Services.

I respect Karen tremendously, and look forward to seeing whether her undoubted knowledge, experience and commitment to delivering evolving services can help turn the lumbering behemoth in a new direction more appropriate to our current expectations and requirements.

OCLC is crammed full of extremely talented individuals. It’s still going the wrong way, and I continue to watch for their panic-stricken waving from the deck, as they realise that they can’t turn the [grain? 😉 ] tanker before it crashes into the rocks.

Update: post edited to correct my mistyping of Karen’s new post; it’s Metadata services, of course, not Member services.

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Reader Development in the bookshop

My colleague, Ian Corns, has recently begun recording a series of podcasts with his ‘Future Librarians Gang’. I listened to the latest of these on the way home last night, as they discussed the whole area of reader development.

The wide-ranging discussion got me to thinking, once more, that we’re missing a golden reader development opportunity in tying up with the local book shop. No one (except me) has ever thought this plan to be quite as brilliant as I think it is, but I’ll try sharing it again to see if some enterprising Future Librarian/ Waterstone fancies giving it a go.

Basically, the Master Plan involves a good bookshop giving over some fairly prominent (but quite small) space to the local library. In that space, the library would display a finite selection of books. To work best, those books would be the first in a long sequence, or by otherwise prolific authors. Visitors to the bookshop brave enough to try something new – but not brave enough to take a financial risk by buying a book outside their comfort zone – could be encouraged to borrow the library book.

Library visibility is raised. The bookshop (hopefully) gets readers to broaden their habit… and to return once they’ve read the first book to buy others in the series. Library, bookshop, and the world at large gain from all of us broadening our reading horizons.

Technologically, you simply treat the bookshop as either another branch or (more likely) as effectively a mobile library. You’d need to be quite explicit about tightly defining the scope of the ‘library’ service available in the bookshop – and hopefully use the association to advertise other library services as well; services that are less ‘threatening’ to the shop’s revenue stream.

I now wait, expectantly, for the big long list of boring reasons why it’ll never work… 🙁

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Onerous DRM forces MIT to back away from SAE

As reported last week in the MIT Libraries News:

The MIT Libraries have canceled access to the Society of Automotive Engineers’ web-based database of technical papers, rejecting the SAE’s requirement that MIT accept the imposition of Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology.

SAE’s DRM technology severely limits use of SAE papers and imposes unnecessary burdens on readers. With this technology, users must download a DRM plugin, Adobe’s “FileOpen,” in order to read SAE papers. This plugin limits use to on-screen viewing and making a single printed copy, and does not work on Linux or Unix platforms.

At a time when DRM is being challenged in other spheres, SAE’s onerous requirements are an excellent example of self-foot-shooting.  Paranoic emphasis on protecting your resources at all costs, is now costing them subscription revenue.  Their requirement for [Windows only] plugins to enable users to access their documents is the equivalent to only providing eggs in a form suitable for making an omelette – But I want mine boiled!.

Yes, they have a revenue stream they would like to protect but so did all the monks creating illuminated manuscripts before those pesky book things turned up. 

You may have noticed that we at Talis are passionate about Open Data.  By Open I don’t necessarily mean free.  I mean open for use by those that can gain value from, and add value to, it.  In that scenario there is room for a wide spectrum of complementary licensing models from the totally free and unrestricted, to subscription and other chargeable models.   We have even drafted the Talis Community License as a contribution to the debate around how aggregations of data can be licensed in an open way.

Data can add value, providing you can find it and you can use it.  I haven’t dug in to SAE’s site to discover how easy they make things to find, but I think MIT have given the thumbs down on the usability front.

(Photo taken by Monceau displayed in Flickr)


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Report from Library of Congress meeting acknowledges the ‘consumer space’

Screenshot 4

Lorcan points me to Nancy Fallgren’s report on the recent Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control meeting at Google. I blogged about the meeting just before it took place.

I was pleased to see explicit recognition of the (competing?) requirements for using bibliographic data in the ‘consumer environment’ and the ‘management environment.’ I was more pleased to see tacit acknowledgement that the OPAC is an increasingly small part of the ‘consumer environment’ for bibliographic data.

“The consumer environment is comprised of end-users searching for information resources. These consumers require bibliographic data to assist them in finding, identifying, selecting and obtaining information resources, in English as well as other languages. Both Markey and Burke reveal that users need additional/ richer data and that the bibliographic catalog is merely one of many sources they use to find information. In addition to multiple sources of information, there are multiple access tools for information discovery. End-users employ a variety of general purpose and custom tools to find relevant information. The tools range from general search engines that use keyword as the access methodology to more specialized systems customized for the library environment, such as faceted browser interfaces. In addition, discussions about and designs for bibliographic data must not be couched only in terms of effectiveness in English-language searches and structures.”

So what do we do about it, then? How do we evolve, to effectively insert bibliographic (and other) data into the flow, instead of locking it up in increasingly fancy silos?

Even more importantly, we learn that Google has cool toilets.

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